Wednesday, January 30, 2008

roding woodcock eat your heart out....

A species of hummingbird makes a chirping noise with its tail feathers, not its throat, a study using high-speed video has suggested.The exact source of the noise from male Anna's hummingbirds has been the subject of debate among researchers.By using specialised footage, a team of US scientists were able to show that male hummingbirds' tail feathers vibrated during high-speed dives.The findings appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.

The loud chirp sound is produced by male Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) as the birds dive towards the ground at speeds that exceed 50mph (80km/h) during their displays for nearby females. (Wonder what the equivalent pound for pound human speed would be?)

see: for detailed report.

the river crossing

It’s a £390M project, due to open in 2014, be 2.3km long (but with a 1km span across the river), be 135m above the river bed and have three lanes each way with a crossing speed limit of 60mph. Compare that to the Jubilee bridge which currently has (occasionally) two lanes either way carrying 80,000 vehicles a day – ten times more than it was built for, at 40mph. Additional developments are also being considered, namely a new junction with the M56 at Preston Brook.

Big times, big developments and I’m sure, in the long run, it will be an asset to the north-west. What does sadden me though is that once it is built, and tolled, free access to Liverpool will only be via the M62 corridor. But hey, the planning proposal hasn’t even been presented yet (supposed to be this spring) so we could still be years, and millions more pounds away, from completion.

See: for more information and updates

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


In line with the wetlands theme is the recent publication of the Wetland Bird Survey report, Waterbirds in the UK 2005/06. One facet of information that appears to have been targeted from this report is the falling numbers of Mallards - as provided by winter counts at the Ouse Washes (the only locality with nationally important numbers). The decline, first noted in the 1980’s, has continued to the extent that a count of 4,457 in 2001/2002 has now fallen to 2,454 in the winter 2005/2006.

Why this decline is occurring is unknown – it may be something as simple as warmer winters allowing birds to stay on their local ponds without a need to move to sites with more food, or it may be something more sinister that has yet to be discovered.

Whichever it is it will probably result in more Mallards being ringed than is done at present. It’s a bit like the House Sparrow scenario – they were so common they were ignored and then, just when we needed data to analyse declines, we had none.

World Wetlands Day

February 2nd. This year the theme is 'Healthy Wetlands, Healthy People'. The amount of information available on this is just too much to put into this little site so visit: - in the first instance for more. Feb 2nd marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. WWD was celebrated for the first time in 1997 and made an encouraging beginning. Each year, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the community have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general and the Ramsar Convention in particular.

BTO /WWT WeBS counters will be active on this day.

Early nesting

For those of you that also follow the BTO Nest Record Forum you'll have seen the reports of early nesting - Cormorants for definite and possibly Blue Tit within a next box. However, I think this one takes this year's record (a bit like the Blackbird at Cheshire Oaks this time last year).

When a blackbird was observed nesting in a Christmas tree on the campus of University College Cork, it was hailed as a sign of an early spring.
On Friday last - January 25th - the eggs, which were found in the nest by staff from the university's Office of Buildings and Estates, had hatched into three young Blackbirds.
Professor John O'Halloran of UCC's Department of Zoology and Animal Ecology, examined the nest last week and confirmed that these were viable blackbird eggs laid this year.

This gives a first egg date of January 5th.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Climatic Atlas published

The new Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds is published today. One hopes that when my copy arrives it will be an interesting read - (accurately) predicting what new bird species will be added and lost to the British list. For those of you interested the RSPB has a pdf download of a small booklet on the subject (and the book). See:
The maps above, even at this scale, show the current and late 21st century predicted range of Dartford Warbler - so we should start to see a lot more over the next few years. Obviously there will be other additions, serin for instance, but equally there will be declines, as the southern boundaries of species more northwards.
I'll post more info when my copy from Spain arrives.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Oak - decline and sudden death.

Just when you think you've had some good news (re-introduction of elm) some bad news comes along to redress the balance. This mornings wo is 'oak decline', a contagion affecting oaks, killing them slowly from the top down. To date the disease has been reported in over 100 areas of the country and is predicted to be as bad as Dutch Elm Disease was - I sincerely hope not. The disease has been around for some while, with small outbreaks occurring in isolated areas. Now however, possibly as a result of a lack of cold winters, the disease appears to be gaining ground and becoming more of a problem; it having mutated to an 'acute' form killing trees quicker. To make it more complicated, a tree infected with 'oak decline' becomes more susceptible to 'sudden oak death' a separate disease caused by a fungus.
Picture from

Saturday, January 12, 2008

This pleases me

In a way I'm trying not to analyse to closely this headline has pleased me (23.34hrs on a busy Saturday).

"Environmental group Greenpeace said one of its ships has located the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean and is pursuing it". "As long as we are in pursuit, they won't be able to whale".

The Japanese, apparently, are using the excuse that its pursuit of whaling is for scientific purposes. Being a scientist I find this excuse weak, thin and condescending and, if they could put forward a valid reason for continuing I might not find the headline so pleasing. However, they can't so I do.

Reading the article in the Environmental News Network further the article finishes:

Japan has long resisted pressure to stop scientific whaling, insisting whaling is a cherished cultural tradition.

So, why are they whaling again?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Liverpool Ornithology Club

I was at a meeting of LOC last night which, I believe, is the longest surviving ornithological club in the UK. In the old days it used to be known as the Liverpool Ornithology and Diners Club and, although the club does have two 'meals' a year, the emphasis now is much more on birds as well as members meeting socially.
The speaker last night was the Rev Hugh Linn who took us through 'Four seasons' through his eyes. It was a reminder that 'in the good old days' Spotted Flycatcher would nest in your back garden shed and Turtle Doves (rather than Collared Doves) would be the birds coo-ing from your telephone wires. It was also interesting that the Long-eared owl that he had roosting in his back garden was seen by some of the audience when they were still in short socks and trousers and Hugh was particularly pleased that his efforts to circulate the birds' presence (when it was still standard trunk calls via the GPO) had been appreciated.
Hugh answers to a higher authority, being of the cloth, but remarked that his immortality would was assured as he had had a letter published in BB (77:10; p489 1984) on some ground nesting Carrion crows he had discovered in his parish (see photo (C) BB).
The next meeting of LOC will be on 1st Feb when John Drakely will be talking on his travels in Zambia.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Oaks and Elms

We all have species 'likes' in life - for me its oaks, elms, Great Crested Grebes, hawthorn blossom, elephants etc, so it was good to see the recent article whereby elms (be they american) are being re-introduced into Britain to restore them into the landscape.
As a graduate I did I project on elms, or lack of, in the countryside. We lost 2/3rds of the national stock, about 25 million trees, to ceratocystis ulmi - the fungus that killed them (although I believe it has a new name now).
These 'new' trees are reported to be 96% resistant to the fungus and so stand an excellent chance of adding to the countryside flora. Good old Prince Charles has recently planted (probably not personally) 40 of these american imports at Highgrove, and so leads the way in reintroducing this tree species to the British countryside. I hope I live long enough to see the difference.
Image from:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

North American Ruddy Duck

Reported today is the 'strong support' that has been received from all the statutory agencies for the draft strategy to tackle (?irradicate) non-native species in Great Britain. Confining myself to animals the list contains three species - Ruddy Duck, Grey Squirrel and Signal Crayfish. Each of these species is threatening the continued existence of another - at least in Britain, or Europe.
We are probably all familiar with the arguments for and against this control but I'd like to add another species to the list - Canada Goose. My perception of them becoming a problem arose about ten years ago and nothing has changed that. Indeed others think so to - in Stratford upon Avon they now have dedicated teams marshaling breeding geese (they and the public don't mix), at Manchester airport they are parting with money to determine which geese continually overfly the airport (with a view to stopping them) and local park wardens are seeking advice on how to discourage geese from 'overtaking' park ponds and waterways.
Can you think of anymore candidates?

See also:
Image by John Bowers

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A bookmarking must for 2008

Alan and Ruth - both of whom used to work for the RSPB (but I'll forgive them) - are off! I'll say as little as possible so it will encourage you to visit their website - but the url gives it away somewhat.

Atlas Update

In between the rain and wind I managed to undertake one of my TTV's for the BTO Atlas before the Christmas period. On entering data I was red-flagged for both the number of Feral Pigeons recorded as well as Common Gull - interesting! Fortunately my Roving Recorder records have gone in without mathematical query.
The first image shows the number of tetrads that have been allocated for the Atlas within Merseyside- so if you can identify a blank I'd love to hear from you. Nearly all of these allocations have been made whereby volunteers fully acknowledge that they are contributing to both the local and national Atlas at the same time. Before you ask the blue square is a winter survey only, while the black mean volunteers will be contributing both winter and breeding survey data.

The second image is of species richness recorded in each 10km square to date. This is data taken from submitted TTV's and roving records, Garden Birdwatch data and Birdtrack. It's baseline for comparison is the BTO Winter Atlas of 81-84. Essentially white means fewer species recorded in comparison while red indicates >90% of possible species already recorded.

To date 17 sets of TTV results have been recorded on-line together with data from 27 sets of Roving Recorder records. This may seem small but, knowing what I do, this is only a fraction of the survey work that has been undertaken locally (and has yet to be submitted). Survey work is progressing nicely so, on that note, a happy new year to you all.

It's Official

Two things. The first is that Jeremy Greenwood, ex-director of the BTO, was awarded a CBE in the New Years Honors list. Jeremy said that, although he was proud to get the award, it was strange for being rewarded just for doing ones job - and more so as it was a job that relied heavily upon others, not least of which was us 'the volunteers'. This is a fine acknowledgment of the BTO and the work that it does.
Second - the Feral Pigeon is being forced into a decline by nothing other than its close relative the Wood pigeon. Woodies, driven from their natural farmland habitat, have adapted by making their way into urban areas. In fact there are now more Wood pigeons nesting in major cites than Feral pigeons. Fortunately they are to be found more in parks and gardens than around buildings so are more likely to be tolerated than the building orientated Feral pigeon.